Sugars – Excess sugar equals inflammation, but your body needs some and would like it mostly in the form of glucose, please.
Each molecule of regular sugar (sucrose) is both glucose and fructose. Molecularly, it really doesn’t matter if you’re eating white or brown sugar or honey – it’s all half glucose and half fructose.
So, why do we care if we intake glucose or fructose that’s natural or not? Because our bodies handle different types of sugars in different ways. Glucose, the type your body would like the most of, can be sent directly to your muscle tissue and other cells. Your body can choose to use it immediately or store it for later in the form of glycogen.
Fructose, not quite so friendly, has to make a pit stop at the liver first. The liver has to check it out and decide if it’s going to change it into glucose or fat. Fructose is the type of sugar in fresh fruits. If you’re craving tons and tons of fruit and foregoing proteins and vegetables, you’re experiencing a glucose/fructose imbalance. A better way to help your body get back on track is to cut way back on the fruit and instead give your body more glucose in starches like baked sweet potatoes for awhile.
Here’s what happens when you eat fructose: the fruit or High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) laden product or other delivery method gets the fructose in your blood within a matter of seconds. Then your uric acid levels begin to rise. With HFCS, levels rise faster and stay higher longer. Prolonged high uric acid causes obesity, fatty liver, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, kidney disease, and even someone that appears completely healthy is at risk for high blood pressure. Why is that? Let’s get science-y!
As your cells naturally die off (apoptosis), they degrade into purines. Purines are then broken down further into uric acid. When fructose enters your system, it puts your cells into a kind of shock and gives them the message to burn up and die faster.
When you eat excess fructose on a regular basis, you teach your body to absorb the fructose faster and faster each time. You become sensitized to it and more sensitive to the toxic effects happening in your system. Uric acid blocks the synthesis of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide’s job is to lower blood pressure, so if you don’t have enough synthesizing going on, you get high blood pressure.
A fructose by-product called xylose-5-phosphate stimulates lipogenesis, which in your body is code for “make new fat.” (In fact, 30% of HFCS always ends up as fat.) This all makes your liver much less effective because the insulin levels get so high. And the higher your insulin levels go, the harder time your brain has of understanding when it sees leptin, the protein hormone that tells your brain you’re full and had enough. That means your brain thinks you’re starving and tells your body to store more fat.
Stopping excess fructose cold-turkey can cause immediate results, both good and bad. You could feel withdrawals like headaches, irritability and sleeplessness. The good news is, after just a few days, your joint pain and other issues will start to resolve. The fructose from a real, whole fruit will be treated differently in your body than HFCS and eating some fruit, for most people, is fine. If you find that you’re only craving fruit, however, you need to look at that as an issue.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is molecularly almost the same as regular sugar, coming in at a 45 glucose/55 fructose ratio. That extra 5% is what makes it “high.” But, isn’t it interesting that whatever chemical processing it goes through to convert that little 5% makes it just different enough that our bodies treat it very differently than regular glucose? Your liver decides what to do with glucose when it arrives – use it as energy, convert it to triglycerides or store it as fat. Studies show that the HFCS glucose does not pass go, thank you very much, and is treated by the body similarly to fat. I believe that it doesn’t help that it’s made from corn, which along with soy, has become one of our most genetically modified foods.
Unfortunately, HFCS is in so many things now, even things that aren’t sweet, if you aren’t checking labels, you’re probably consuming it without realizing it.
Sugar alternatives – artificial sweeteners are poison. Period. First on the list of things to never put in your body ever again? Anything made accidentally in the pursuit of a better cleaning product, which is how some of these artificial sugars were discovered. Let’s go over some of the top and widely available ones.
Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sucrose. When aspartame is digested, the body breaks it down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is something the human body isn’t equipped to handle. It travels through your blood vessels into your organs and your organs convert it into formaldehyde. Methanol poisoning feels like headaches, buzzing, nausea, memory loss, limb pain and even behavioral problems, just to name a few. But worse, formaldehyde is a carcinogen that interferes with DNA replication and could cause birth defects.
The worst part about aspartame is that when it crosses the blood-brain barrier it causes an opiate effect, generally making sure you become addicted to it.
Of all the complaints filed that ever there were to the U.S. FDA, Aspartame wins with over 10,000. That’s over 91 symptoms all related to its consumption.
Saccharine is about 300-400 times sweeter than sucrose. This beauty is derived from petroleum. It cannot be metabolized by the human body and must be excreted by the kidneys in the same form it came in. It’s been linked to many cancers and to toxic liver. Our own FDA and USDA both tried to ban saccharine in the 1970s.
Sucralose is 320-1,000 times sweeter than sucrose. It has some of the least and lightest human testing done of any artificial sweetener out there. Sucralose is a synthetic chemical made by combining three chlorine molecules with one sucrose molecule. So instead of sucrose (glucose/fructose) you now have something called fructo-galactose. Because it isn’t in any way natural, your body perceives it as poison. It can’t be digested or metabolized. It causes inflammation. And that’s bad.
Tell it to me in Science-y! Well, ok, since you asked!
Insulin – If we get down to basics, what happens when we eat something sweet? Natural or unnatural, your body releases insulin because it expects to have something to digest. Hopefully that’s some delicious glucose/fructose.
If you’ve ingested something natural or whole, your body gets to work at digesting and balances the energy expended by collecting the nutrients provided and storing energy for the future.
If you’ve ingested something “calorie free” because of an artificial sweetener, the insulin still gets released, it just has nothing to do, which is confusing and actually makes you eat more later because of the extra insulin coursing around in your bloodstream. It also makes your body insulin-resistant after awhile, which is called Type-2 Diabetes.
Manufacturers came up with a response to this – artificial sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol. These new little guys fool your body into not releasing insulin because they don’t actually register as something sweet.
Sorbitol, based from corn syrup, is usually listed as an inactive ingredient in your gum even though it’s used in some products like laxatives, where it’s a very active ingredient and works by pulling water into the large intestines and stimulating a bowel movement. A tiny bit packs quite a punch. Watch out for gas, discomfort and diarrhea.
Xylitol, based from birch trees or corncobs, also has a laxative effect. Xylitol is powerful and it will poison or kill your dog, even in small amounts.
So, what’s wrong with sugar alcohols? They don’t register as sweet, your body doesn’t send out insulin, which seems like a good thing. But the issue is that our bodies do a poor job of breaking them down because it’s a cross between a sugar and an alcohol molecule.
When it sits around in your mouth as chewing gum, it won’t cause tooth decay like sugar does, because the bacteria in our mouths can’t ferment it like sucrose. The bacteria in our colon can, though, so if you are prone to irritable bowel issues like bloating, gas, or stomach aches, sugar alcohols are not helping you. This will cause inflammation for a person with a chronic illness.
There are studies that show xylitol might have medicinal properties like a treatment for osteoporosis. I’m not sure how that treatment would be applied or how your body would handle that so if that’s something you’re interested in, be your own advocate and research it. (And then write me and let me know because I’m interested.)
Other sweeteners – There is no such thing as organic honey. You have no idea where the bees have been. But natural, raw honey is usually tolerable for most people and a good alternative to cane sugar.
Palm sugar is made from the sap of the Palmyra palm, the date palm or the sugar date palm trees. It’s nutrient-dense and unrefined. It has amino acids, especially glutamine, minerals like potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. It has B vitamins 1, 2, 3, 6 and C. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio for baking.
Palm sugar is about 75% sucrose, meaning it has about the same amount of fructose that table sugar does. And yet, it triggers no headache or stomachache for me and others. Naturally occurring fructose, when combined with nutrients that get carried together in a natural state as a whole food to my cells, are treated much differently than highly concentrated amounts of fructose not found in nature.
Other “natural” sugar substitutes – Agave nectar is not a great sweetener for someone with a chronic illness, as it’s 90% fructose, making it harder to digest even though it’s so low on the glycemic index. Agave has more fructose the HFCS.
Part of the Agave nectar metabolizing problem for chronically ill people might because it induces saponins and ends up becoming basically an anti-nutrient similar to legumes and grains. But beyond that, it’s not really even a “natural” sweetener. Agave nectar is never really raw or natural. It’s made from the starchy root bulb of the plant, not the yucca or agave plant leaves or flowers, making the main ingredient starch, similar to corn syrup. This complex carbohydrate starch is called inulin and it is not sweet.
To make the “nectar,” the agave starch is subjected to a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes, similar to how corn starch is made into HFCS. Then there is a whole bunch of caustic acids, clarifiers and filtration chemicals used to convert the agave starch into the highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in fructose content than HFCS.
When you put the agave nectar in your body, it can’t be digested in your stomach or intestines and must be sent through your liver. Your liver has to turn it into triglycerides or store it as fat. It won’t ever get converted to glucose, which we know is what your body really wants in a sugar. To top it all off, agave has shown in studies to mess with your leptin levels. Leptin tells your body that you’re full. If your leptin levels can’t rise due to unnatural fructose, your body doesn’t know when to stop eating, causing you to store more fat and gain more weight.
What about Stevia? Stevia is in the chrysanthemum plant family. Extracted steviol glycoside can be up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose. It’s been banned and unbanned. Deemed safe and unsafe. It has an aftertaste which I don’t care for and it gives me a headache.
Refined Stevia goes through about 40 steps to extract the sweetness from the leaf. During those steps, the leaf is processed with acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile and isopropanol among others.
Refined Stevia products contain erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar that can be found in nature. It would be better if that was the version they were using in their product, but they aren’t. Instead, they are making their own franken-version from a GMO corn product and fermenting it from a yeast-like fungus. They add this unnatural erythritol sugar to the steviol glycoside along with “natural flavor.”
What’s “natural flavor?” Well, it could be anything. Probably something to help mask the terrible aftertaste. The FDA says they can use anything that is “generally regarded as safe” and call it natural flavor including excitotoxins, like naturally occurring glutamate bi-products such as MSG which literally over-excite your taste buds and encourage you to keep consuming long past when it would be wise to stop. After your cells are worn out, they literally die from exhaustion or are damaged and incapacitated causing disease. These diseases include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, stroke, obesity, migraines and depression.
This isn’t new or exclusive to stevia. It’s true of any product, “natural” and most certainly processed, where “natural flavor” is listed as an ingredient. Be an advocate on your own behalf and read labels.
A better choice for using stevia would be to grow your own stevia plant in your backyard, harvest your own leaves and add them to your tea for a little sweetness.
Maple syrup is sap from the maple tree. It’s high in manganese and zinc. Pure maple syrup has potassium, calcium, iron, copper, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium.
Pure maple syrup has been processed. It’s been boiled at high temperatures for long hours in an evaporator, but there have been no harsh chemicals used. It’s 60% sucrose, which means is similar to table sugar molecularly. However, similarly to palm sugar, its nutritional value might help your body absorb it as a whole and natural food and you may be able to metabolize it.
Molasses is a by-product of the refining of sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. It’s the syrup left over after crystallization of the sucrose. You’d want to try the one from sugarcane and not the one from beets. Blackstrap Molasses has calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, potassium and manganese. It’s made from the third boiling of the syrup and has the least amount of sugar left. Because it has the minerals your body needs, you might be able to use it without an issue, but please look for the unsulfured (and fair trade!) variety.
Dates are a sweet fruit from the date palm tree. They are one of our oldest sweeteners, going back thousands of years. They are high in potassium. They have protein, cobalt, copper, flourine, magnesium, manganese, selenium and zinc.
When you look at a date, imagine that 2/3rd of it is sugar and most of that sugar is fructose. They are naturally delicious little sugar bombs. Your body does know how to digest this form of fructose, which is good. Eat too many of them and you’ll end up with all the same issues you’d get with any other sugar, which is not so good.
White potatoes are really sugar – Surprise! Starches turn into sugar in your body. Just remember that when you eat them and go easy and combine them well with other foods.
How much sugar do you need? Not that much right now and almost exclusively it should be naturally occurring and whole-foods.
When you eat too much of something that’s sweet, especially artificial sweeteners, it can impair your brain function. Studies show that when a subject eats something sweet, their brains light up in the same regions as an addict using their drug of choice. First, the reward chemical, dopamine, spikes and feels great, quickly followed by a wash of serotonin, which feels like an opiate, which reinforces your “need” to have more.
Cut out all artificial sweeteners. Use only very small amounts of natural sugar as additions in tea etc. in the form of honey, palm sugar, unsulfured molasses and maybe maple syrup if your body can use it with no reaction. Try dates and a small amount of fresh fruit to meet your sweet-tooth needs.